After threat of Triple-A, Sullivan improving at the plate |

After threat of Triple-A, Sullivan improving at the plate

DENVER ” Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle watched Cory Sullivan’s batting average dip lower and lower, and by late August he’d had enough.

“I told him that if he kept going the way he was, he was going to be playing in Triple-A next year,” Hurdle said of a conversation they had during a road trip to Los Angeles.

Message received.

In the month since that frank talk, Sullivan has managed to resuscitate his dreary play at the plate. In doing so, the rookie also has gone a long way in securing a roster spot for next season.

After an excellent spring training, Sullivan, who had missed the entire 2004 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, made the inexperienced Rockies squad behind the now-traded Preston Wilson.

It didn’t take the 26-year-old long to get comfortable at Coors Field. On his first career at-bat, pinch-hitting in the season opener against the San Diego Padres, Sullivan hit a double in Colorado’s late-inning rally.

By the end of June, the centerfielder was batting .308.

“Cory had an outstanding first six weeks of the season, almost even two months,” Hurdle said. “Then for two months it’s like he disappeared.”

Sullivan went into an extended hitting slump as he struggled with his mechanics and timing. He was forcing it at the plate, he said, trying to attack the ball too much.

By the end of August, Sullivan’s average had dropped to .228. The only positive aspect of his game was his consistency on the field.

“At the time he was hitting fly balls to left, ground balls to second and striking out,” Hurdle said. “He had no opportunity to utilize his speed.”

Then came Hurdle’s ultimatum, which also came with a plan to get Sullivan hitting again, including working with the manager and hitting coach Duane Espy.

“The main things were widening my stance and letting the ball get deeper to the catcher, and that’s worked out well,” Sullivan said.

Part of the process, too, was understanding that every player goes through slumps, he said.

“Bad times are going to find everybody just about,” he said. “You take a year off, you’re going to have some lows.”

Going into Thursday’s game against San Diego, Sullivan has managed to boost his average back up to .292 ” including a .400 clip this month ” and has a career-high seven-game hitting streak. His 11 stolen bases also put him tied with Matt Holliday for the club lead.

“Fortunately, things worked out so far,” he said.

Hurdle, too, has been impressed with how Sullivan has improved after the manager issued his challenge, although some questions remain about his overall performance this season.

“Cory Sullivan has played as good centerfield as anybody in the game the last three to four weeks,” he said. “He would be in very good standing on our 25-man roster.”

Summit Daily News, Summit County, Colorado

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